Old records get second life as journals

Story highlights

  • Through Vintage Vinyl Journals, Katie Pietrak transforms old records into notebooks
  • Pietrak launched her business after losing her job in the pharmaceutical industry
  • To get business off the ground, she moved to scale back on living expenses

On paper, Katie Pietrak was a success story throughout her 20s. She had her own home, a new car, a large, beloved collection of vinyl records and a six-figure salary from her job in the pharmaceutical industry.

But she didn't love what she was doing.

"I bought my first house when I was 21 but I wasn't happy. I kind of knew that all along but I did it because of financial stability," Pietrak said. "I was afraid to think outside of the box because of money."

It took losing her job in 2010 for her to change her tune and launch a business doing something she enjoyed. Since 2011, Pietrak has been combining her enthusiasm for vintage records and bookbinding through her small business, Vintage Vinyl Journals. She finds old records, repurposes them into book covers and makes them into journals for music lovers.

"Everyone knows I was always making trinkets," Pietrak says. "It wasn't too hard of a transition for me since I had both the craft and business side."

To make it happen, she had to leave corporate America behind and downsize from her three-bedroom home to a one-bedroom apartment. Now, she lives in a barn on her parents' property in a small town in Pennsylvania, dividing her time between raising an infant and building a business.

It's worth the sacrifice to have control over her work and her life, said Pietrak, 34. Besides, now she has an entire studio where she gives old records a second life.

"I'm such a different person now," she said.

Pietrak always has been interested in vintage items and antiques. As a teen, when her friends were buying CDs and cassettes, she was sifting through boxes of 15-cent records at yard sales and flea markets. When she left her parents' home, she took her large collection with her.

She pursued a bachelor's degree from La Salle University in Philadelphia and later earned her MBA from St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. She continued to collect vinyl as her career took off. When the records became too scratched for listening, she didn't want to get rid of them, but how could she use them?

While she was looking for a journal to jot down ideas, "something clicked" and she was inspired to find a way to incorporate her languishing records into a notebook.

"I got in my car, drove to Barnes and Noble and sat in the aisle reading almost everything I found about bookbinding," she said.

She began crafting journals for friends and family and giving them as gifts to loved ones. After Pietrak was laid off, she decided to turn her journal-making hobby into a career. To fund start-up costs, she did temporary contract work and drew from her savings so she could eventually devote all her efforts to Vintage Vinyl Journals.

She crops the album covers herself and contracts out the laser-cutting of the vinyl. She sews the journal pages together and attaches them to the cover using an acid-free adhesive. The average price of one of Pietrak's journals is $35, depending on the price of the vinyl. Custom designs requiring records that are hard to obtain cost a bit more.

She used to think of them as simply journals, but over time she's seen people use them for a variety of purposes.

"People use them for wedding guest sign-in books, scrapbooks, drawing, books to store concert ticket stubs and photos -- stuff I never thought of," Pietrak says.

After being in business for six months, she realized she would have to scale back living expenses to get the business off the ground. She and her boyfriend (now her husband) moved into an apartment and she sold many of her belongings. After two years in the apartment, they moved into her parents' barn to accommodate their growing family.

Her life is much simpler now than when she was a "corporate, hungry, heel-wearing person," she said. She can work and focus on her daughter while tending to new passions, like gardening and beekeeping.

Running her business is a full-time job, even if it doesn't provide enough income to support her family; her husband has an outside job. There have been the typical ups and downs of being a small-business owner and entrepreneur, especially in learning how to market her products, she said.

But "not a day goes by" when she regrets her decision. Her vinyl journals are sold in stores across the United States and Canada. She used to attend craft shows to sell her product and find retailers, but as sales have grown through her website, she has been able to travel less. Her success has led her to pursue new business ventures, too, including an apparel line, Lucky Penny, named for her daughter, that will launch next month.

Her dream now is to see her product on the shelves of larger retailers, like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.

"Either way," she says, "it's exciting finally having my own business."

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